These days, any savvy connoisser of cabernet is aware of red wine's health benefits. The flavonoids found in grapes can help protect the skin from sun damage. Resveratrol, its highly touted "healthy" ingredient, helps protect against the deleterious effects of a sedentary lifestyle. And it's long been associated with lower rates of heart disease.
But do all these buzz-worthy benefits translate into a longer life? A long-term study from Boston University School of Medicine is dubious. Following a group of older Americans, researchers noted that moderate wine drinkers tended to have higher levels of education and income, healthier diets, and more active lifestyles than their spirit-drinking counterparts. Over 20 years, the study concluded that these lifestyle choices, not the vino, were overwhelmingly responsible for the group's better health outcomes.
As with any study, there are a number of confounding issues. Even the most devoted wine aficionado is going to imbibe the occasional beer or spirit, and there was no consideration made for changes in taste that might have occurred over the 20-year period. And while adjustments were made for so-called "health problems," other variables such as gender, marital status, former problem drinking, obesity, depressive symptoms, and quality of friend support were all considered insignificant.
Even making the distinction between the health benefits of wine versus other forms of alchohol can be considered a bit disingenuous. According to Dr. Eric Rimm, a Harvard researcher, any alcohol in limited quality has a potential health benefit, especially when taken with food.
"The research evidence points to ethanol, or the alcohol component, of beer, wine, or spirits as the substrate that can help lower cholesterol levels, increase 'good' HDL cholesterol," he said to CBS News, adding that there was a common misconception that wine was more healthful because of its antioxidants.
"It does contain some, but they are not always well absorbed," said Rimm. "If you want antioxidants, you are better off eating a spinach salad with vegetables than drinking a glass of red wine."
The moral of the story? Have a drink, any drink. Have it with food. Just don't overdo it.